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Review of  Standard Arabic

Reviewer: Rebecca Molloy
Book Title: Standard Arabic
Book Author: Günther Krahl Wolfgang Reuschel Eckehard Schulz
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Arabic, Standard
Issue Number: 12.173

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Schulz, Eckehard, Guenter Krahl and Wolfgang Reuschel,
(2000) Standard Arabic: An elementary - intermediate
course, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 641 pages.

Reviewed by Rebecca B. Molloy, unaffiliated.

Synopsis: This book presents a comprehensive foundation
course for beginning students of Modern Standard Arabic
(MSA), from a great presentation of the characters and
pronunciation of the alphabet to introduction of real
reports, essays, letters and more. The textbook has clearly
been compiled with the needs of English-speaking students
especially in mind, providing a step by step guide to
understanding written and spoken texts, as well as an
Arabic-English glossary. The course book will prove
invaluable to students and teachers alike.

Critical evaluation:
The book contains very helpful subject indices for both
Arabic and English terminology. Learning the Arabic
grammatical terms not only prepares the student to attend
language courses in Arab countries, but actually gives the
student a better insight into the way the Arabic language
is perceived by its native speakers. Latin terminology
which is commonly used in Arabic textbooks, reflects
linguistic ideas behind Latin, not Arabic, and thus is
hardly applicable to Arabic phenomena. Terms like Jussive,
Subjunctive or indicative, imperfect and perfect tenses,
copula and government etc., are inappropriate for the
Arabic verbal system, and actually mislead and confuse
students regarding the use of Arabic verbs classified in
this manner. (For several studies on grammatical
terminology see bibliography section of this review).
Though Schulz's textbook continues the unfortunate western
tradition of applying Latin terminology to Arabic, it does
an adequate job in familiarizing students with indigenous

The book also includes fresh texts and dialogues that
contain up-to-date data on the Middle East and North
Africa, including Arab folklore, customs, proverbs, and
short essays on contemporary topics. The format coupled
with the material help develop students' conversational
ability as well as reading and writing skills. A wide
variety of exercises and drills are provided to reinforce
grammar points, vocabulary learning and communicative
strategies. Translation exercises from English to Arabic
and vice versa, are an integral part of the training the
book offers. Accompanying cassettes are also available,
helping to bolster listening skills and pronunciation.
However, it should be noted that as the texts in the book
are generally not vocalized, practicing correct
pronunciation of the unvocalized texts is more difficult
for the beginning student, and in fact instills the
unwanted habit of disregarding the correct internal
vocalization (i.e. the pronunciation of) a word.
Regrettably, in this respect, Schulz's course book does not
break from the practice of other books on the market. It
has been my experience that the complete vocalization of
even a handful of texts at the beginning goes a long way in
getting students used to the Semitic phenomenon of a
voweless writing system. Arabic, like other Semitic
languages, separates a word's consonants from its vowels,
which may or may not be indicated in written form. Clearly,
to learn how to vowel a text, one ought to be exposed to
voweling and practice it in the beginning stages.

Generally, the order of topics in the book is quite
effective, to the exclusion, perhaps of the explanation of
the Semitic root system which should be discussed at the
beginning of the text book, immediately following the
alphabet. The basic idea of a triliteral root system is by
and large foreign to English speaking students, and because
it is fundamental to their understanding of Arabic word
formation and word use, students should be exposed to the
idea as early on as possible. The introduction of the idea
of a triliteral root system constitutes a crucial insight
into Arabic morphology in general and clarifies in
particular the extremely important idea in Arabic of
semantic components of patterns. As far as introducing
basic syntactic structures is concerned, the book does a
good job presenting the equational sentence and gender
agreement subsequent to the alphabet. As the concept of
equational sentences (also called nominal sentences) is
foreign to most English speakers, it is critical to impart
a fair understanding of the issue from the very outset, and
Schulz's course book does this quite well.

Finally, the book includes a key to many exercises and
drills. Though this may be an effective tool for
instructors, it is somewhat damaging for students who tend
to abuse such a tool by referring to it without attempting
to tackle the drill. On the flip side, the answer key does
allow for a more independent study method.

Abboud, Peter and Ernest McCarus eds., (1983) Elementary
Modern Standard Arabic, vols. I-II, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Bohas, G. (1990) The Arabic Linguistic Tradition, London.
Michael Carter (1997) "Copula in Arabic grammar", in W.
Madelung, Yu. Petrosyan, H. Waardenbur-Kilpatrick, A.
Khalidov, E. Rezvan, Proceedings of the 17th Congress of the
UEAI [St. Petersburg], St. Petersburg 1997, 37-45.
- -- (1995) "Workshop on grammatical terminology,"
Proceedings of the Colloquium on Arabic Linguistics
Bucharest, August 29 – September 2, 1994. Ed. N. Anghelescu
and A.A. Avram, Bucharest: University of Bucharest center
for Arab studies.
- -- (1989) "The Arabic and medieval Latin grammatical
terms for 'governing'," in K. Dutz (ed.), Speculum
historiographiae linguisticae, Kurzbeitrage der IV.
Internationalen Konferenz zur Geschichte der
Sprachwissenshcaften (ICHoLS IV), Trier, 24-7. August 1987,
Munster, 29-36.
- -- (1989a) "Arab Linguistics and Arabic Linguistics,"
Zeitschrift feur Geschichter der arabisch-islamischen
Wissenschaften, 4, 205-18.

Biography. I am currently an independent scholar,
interested in Medieval Arabic grammatical texts and Islamic
legal theory. I have experience teaching Modern Standard
Arabic at the undergraduate and graduate levels at New York
University and CUNY's Queens College. I recently graduated
from NYU's department of Middle Eastern Studies whence I
received a Ph.D. in Arabic language and literature.


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